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Northern Kentucky reducing teen incarcerations

Associated Press

COVINGTON - Northern Kentucky is meeting its goal of locking up fewer juveniles for non-criminal offenses such as smoking or skipping school.

Educators, prosecutors, child advocates and judges in Kenton County have worked together since 2011 toward the goal.

The Kentucky Enquirer cited data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation in reporting that the number of juveniles incarcerated for so-called status offenses went from 301 in 2009 to 101 in 2012. Statistics weren't yet available for 2013, but a judge said he expects the tally to decline even more.

Kenton County Family Court Judge Chris Mehling said the number of status offenders on his weekly docket has been reduced to about 5 from around 30.

He said one major change was finding other ways to deal with habitual truants.

"The only kids we are putting into detention are runaways," Mehling said. "If we could figure an alternative for them, I would be thrilled."

Joshua Crabtree, managing attorney at the Children's Law Center in Covington, said the effort appears to be working.

"I think the Kenton County judges are taking the correct approach," Crabtree said. "Locking up kids for status offenses just does not make sense."

He said the new approach benefits the juveniles involved.

"The scared-straight approach has been proven ineffective," Crabtree said. "Children who are charged with these non-serious offenses do not belong in jail with youth who have committed serious acts."

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